Big Wheel Keep on Turnin’ – Relaxing on the River

Sometimes you just need a quick getaway. A respite from your work, your home and yard work, and even from your city. Bob and I took a long weekend break this summer to the McKenzie River, where I’m embarrassed to say, in 26 years of Oregon living, we’ve never explored. Boy were we impressed.

There are lots of amazing outdoor adventures and beautiful camping opportunities in Oregon, but I’ve decided that at 52, my days of sleeping on the ground and walking to a toilet in the cold, dark night are over. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. So to keep me happy, we instead booked a last minute cabin at the Cedarwood Lodge, a delightful spot in McKenzie Bridge, right on the McKenzie River. With seven cabins to choose from, the Cedarwood is the perfect blend of comfort and rustic all rolled into one, with the emphasis on the comfort. Mike Giorgio has owned the Lodge for 30 years, and he is incredibly welcoming and friendly. The grounds are superbly well kept, as are the cabins. Our one bedroom cabin, which was $145 a night, had a deck that looked directly at the river. We sat on it every morning and drank our coffee, and every evening with our cocktails, watching rafts and boats float by. With a fully equipped kitchen, it was easy to prepare delicious meals and concoct yummy drinks too.

There’s great hiking all along the McKenzie River, and we took full advantage of the fact that we could drive a short way to many different trail heads. A few of our favorites were the Waterfall Loop Trail, about 3 miles, the Tamolitch Blue Pool (4 miles), and the McKenzie River Trail itself, which we hiked on for about 5 miles. The River is extraordinary, and the trails that run right along it are beautiful. The Blue Pool trail, which is quite popular, was the busiest, but it was never too crowded. Other trails however, were almost completely free of other hikers. It was just us and nature much of the time.

We also golfed, yes, we golfed, at the Tokatee Golf Club in McKenzie Bridge. The golf club is just as beautiful as the rest of the McKenzie River area, with stunning views and vistas. I played nine holes, and didn’t keep my score. I’m certain this goes without saying, but I could give Phil Mickelson a serious run for his money.

We took a drive one afternoon up to the McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory. The structure, built with lava stone, is right in the middle of a large lava flow, and it provides excellent viewing of many of Oregon’s biggest mountains. There’s a Lava River National Recreational Trail there, with excellent information about the lava flow and the growth that has somehow managed to sneak its way in to the lava. The difference in landscape between this area and the McKenzie River is unreal, they are like polar opposites, and yet they are just 26 miles apart.

Within walking distance of the Cedarwood Lodge is the McKenzie River General Store and Grill, where on weekend nights, local bands perform in the courtyard. It appears that many locals hang out here, although it’s hard to figure out where all these folks live, as the surrounding area seems rather unpopulated.

We had a great break from our usual life, and now that we know how lovely the McKenzie River area is, I think we’ll be taking a break a little more often.

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One Way to Avoid Tight Connections

Bob and I are just back from a trip to Botswana and South Africa, with quick visits to Egypt and Zimbabwe (more on our visit to these countries in our print newsletter, coming out next month!). Our flights to the African continent were long, and we had many stops. But as you’ll find out next month, it was well worth it. It’s not easy though to get many places from our little airport in Medford, Oregon. And when you’re headed all the way to Africa it gets even tougher. There are direct flights to cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Denver, but if you want to travel further afield, you know you’ll have to stop at least one other place before your final destination.

We had booked our tickets for this trip on United miles, and the best option for us was to book two separate mileage tickets for each of us, the first going from Medford to New York (via Denver), and the second from New York to Johannesburg. Now, booking two separate tickets always gives me pause, because if your entire trip is booked on one ticket, and your first flight is delayed long enough that you miss your second flight, the airline is obligated to rebook you on another flight. However, if you have two separate tickets and the same thing happens, sorry Charlie, you’re on your own to purchase another flight. Thus, for this trip, we chose to fly the day before on one ticket to New York, then stay overnight in a hotel, and fly on our second ticket the next day to Johannesburg. We figured it would keep us safe from any delays that might cause us to miss our long flight to South Africa, and indeed that was the case. We did the same thing on the way home, and although it took us a day longer in travels each way, we were also able to sleep fairly soundly for six hours in a hotel bed in New York, and not have to sit for hours and hours in an airport waiting for a long connection either.

The older I get (I feel like I’m saying this a lot lately, but I digress), the more I want to de-stress my life and my travels, and tight connections are a big stress bomb, at least for me. A good night of sleep, in a real bed, is worth a lot to me too.

Visiting the Point Reyes National Seashore – Another National Treasure

When Bob and I want to get away for the weekend, my first inclination is to head to water. I love being near Portland’s Willamette River, or San Francisco Bay, or Seattle’s Elliott Bay. And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve got loved ones in all those places either! So last weekend, when we were visiting friends in Petaluma, California, I was delighted to squeeze in an outing to Point Reyes Station, and the Point Reyes National Seashore.

We started our day at Point Reyes Station, a small, unincorporated town located in Marin County that manages to be both boujee and rustic at the same time. On the one hand, you’ve got shops featuring local artists and locally sourced artisanal and organic foods. On the other hand, you’ve got stores selling saddles, bridles, feed and other products for horses. I loved it. We ate amazing grilled cheese sandwiches at the Cowgirl Creamery, followed up by Buffalo Milk Soft Serve ice cream made by Double 8 Dairy in Petaluma. Then we browsed the art, book and gift stores in the two-block burg.

From Point Reyes Station, we drove just a few minutes to the Point Reyes National Seashore Visitor Center. I must get on my soapbox for a moment and talk up our National Park visitor centers. When in the town of Point Reyes Station, we looked at buying a map of the seashore for $9.95. At the visitor center, we picked up a free map, but what I really loved was the free advice we received at the same time. We asked for suggestions on the best places to hike with the time we had allotted, and our friendly and knowledgeable park ranger offered several options. She asked if we wanted beach, trees or animals, then gave us her recommendations. Every time I visit a national park visitor center, I’m reminded of what a great resource these places are for travelers, and why some folks say our National Park system is America’s best idea.

Stepping off my soapbox and back to my story, we chose to hike the Tomales Point trail, starting from historic Pierce Point Ranch. A 14-mile drive from the visitor center, Pierce Point Ranch was a butter producing ranch founded in the late 1800s and in operation until 1973. Today, the restored ranch showcases a variety of buildings along with their history and functions. These include a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, dairy houses, and more. From Pierce Point Ranch, one can hike four-and-a-half miles along the Tomales Point Trail, beside the Pacific Ocean, to Tomales Bluff. The trail passes through the Tule Elk Reserve, and although we didn’t see any elk rutting, as our National Park ranger suggested we might, we did see many elk off in the distance, relaxing in the grass, enjoying the cool breeze and salty air, and participating in scintillating conversation with each other.

It was a beautifully clear day at the National Seashore, although it was quite windy on the bluff. But, of course, our astute National Park ranger had prepared us for that too.

Travel Vaccinations – Just a Shot Away

Bob and I are off to several countries on the African continent next month, including Botswana and South Africa. It was recommended for our Botswana travels that we consider several vaccinations, including typhoid and malaria. We were happy to learn that we could receive all our vaccinations, as well as a consultation, at the Jackson County Public Health Immunization Clinic. Jackson County Public Health offers a terrific service for travelers, as a visit includes a consultation with a registered nurse who specializes in travel medicine and who will make vaccination recommendations for your destination. The consultation fee was $46 for both of us together, and the vaccination prices differ depending on what you choose to get.

No appointment is necessary, and when Bob and I arrived at the Public Health Clinic just after they opened at 8am on a Friday morning, there was no line. After completing a short medical screening form that included questions on our vaccination histories, our upcoming travels, and our general health, we were taken right in. We were given the shots we needed right then and there, and the registered nurse also provided us with the oral typhoid vaccination right there at the clinic, and for a reasonable cost. He also wrote us prescriptions for our malaria vaccine and provided us with a coupon for it!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers vaccination requirements by country, if you’d like to plan ahead and know which vaccines you’ll need. They also offer excellent information on health precautions that you should take when traveling in foreign countries.

The Jackson County Public Health office provides many excellent services for Jackson County residents, including family planning, mental health, and more, and their travel health services both prepared us and gave us peace of mind for our upcoming adventure. Sure, our total vaccination cost was just over $200, but the cost of getting malaria or typhoid would certainly be more expensive, not to mention not so fun.

Guanajuato’s Museum of Mummies—Or Are They Just Dead Bodies?

by Nancy Bestor

The beautiful city of Guanajuato, Mexico boasts many outstanding sites. This includes the Teatro Juarez—a beautiful 100+ year old performing arts theater – several stunning churches, and a great market (Mercado Hidalgo, pictured below) in an old train depot, to name just a few. But one of Guanajuato’s most popular tourist stops leaves me with mixed feelings. The Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato—Museum of the Mummies—is exactly what its name describes, a museum filled with more than 100 mummies. The mummies were residents of Guanajuato who lived from the 1850s to the 1950s. Apparently, if a family member couldn’t afford an annual fee for their beloved’s remains to stay in the cemetery, the body was dug up to make room for someone whose family could afford it. It’s these exhumed folks that were eventually put on display.

I’m not a squeamish person. But there was something a little disturbing about being in a museum filled with nothing but dead bodies. The mummies ranged from babies to the elderly, some with clothing still preserved, and others wearing very little. Most faces seemed permanently etched with a look of distress. I’ve seen mummies in other museums and crypts, but seeing so many together in a museum whose sole purpose is to display mummies was an unusual experience, and one I’m not sure I would recommend to everyone. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, so proceed with caution.The cost is about $5 per person, and the museum is at the top of a hill, a fairly easy walk from the town center.

A Young Lad Learns A New Game

by Robert Bestor

Way, way back. Back when it was hard to find out what was going on on the other side of town, let alone the other side of the world. Back before cable TV even, on our first day of 4th grade, my good buddy Kevin Afonso announced, “My dad taught me a great game over the summer. It’s called soccer.” And after a quick explanation of the rules (which were pretty simple then, and are still simple now), our group of football and baseball mad hellions played soccer at every recess, every day, for the next three years of grade school. 

For several of us this led to youth teams and high school teams. It turned me into a lifelong player, which included a long stint playing in a Sunday morning pick-up game with players from all over the world. The small handful of us who were not from far off lands referred to them as “contingents.” There was the German Contingent, the African Contingent, the British Contingent, the Middle Eastern Contingent, the Hungarian Contingent, and more. The origins of this pick-up game are unknown to me, but it was sustained by carloads of Contingents who showed up every Sunday to play. 

It was a remarkable weekly meeting that, along with other sporting experiences and endeavors, certainly piqued my interest in the world outside of Hayward, California. I distinctly recall watching a marathon, likely on Wide World of Sports, that featured a runner who the announcers referred to as “the mystery man from Djibouti.” What!? Where the heck is Djibouti? Your typical sports fan must score better than average on a geography test.

Soccer also gave me an extra cultural experience to seek out when traveling. Going to a professional game when abroad is always a goal on any trip, and I’m always checking schedules for games that might fit our itinerary. Most recently, Nancy and I attended an English Premier League game at London’s newly remodeled Wembley Stadium.

And my how things have changed. Back in 1984, I attended my first match at a dilapidated old firetrap called Highbury, that was home to Arsenal Football Club. Its seats were sized for Lilliputians and its stairways and concourses were cramped and rickety. Unfortunately the new Wembley has gone a little too far in the other direction and feels a little too new, a little too clean and a little mundane. 

It’s a similar comparison a baseball fan might make between Boston’s Fenway Park (dilapidated firetrap) and Oracle Park in San Francisco (more than a little too precious). You may have guessed my positions on Arsenal, the Red Sox and the Giants. Guilty. Nevertheless sports fans, I stand by my portrayals.

We headed for Wembley because “our” team, Tottenham Hotspur, were using it as a home base while having their own stadium rebuilt. And to be sure, despite my nitpicking over the venue, we had a really great time. It was big fun. 

Tickets are a little tricky to get, as they are held back from sale to the general public in an effort to allow “club members” first crack. I kept my eye on the Tottenham website though, and about two weeks prior to the game, scored seats on the halfway line for about $75 each. 

The trip to the stadium via the Tube was a snap, and soon we were in the stadium tipping a pregame pint and eating a savory pregame pie. And both, to the American sports fan, were shockingly affordable. Our two beers and and two pies cost about $20 total. In comparison, on a recent visit to the Oakland Coliseum Arena (never will I say Oracle), I purchased a single beer that set me back $13. Ouch!

Now I am among the first to admit, soccer can be a boring sport to watch. The lack of scoring, players who roll around on the ground as though they’ve suffered a fatal injury, time-wasting tactics, and conservative strategies, too often combine for disappointingly dull matches. But I can’t help it. I’m hooked. Poor Nancy.

Fortunately, unlike our recent experience in Mexico City (poor Nancy), this game had none of that, and entertained us with goals, a saved penalty kick, friendly fellow fans, and an all around excellent sporting experience. The good guys (Tottenham) won 3-1, and all was right with the world. 

Way, way back, we thought the best thing about Kevin’s dad was that he had once taken a leak beneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But of course there is more. He was born in Portugal, immigrated to the USA, and from 1966 to 1983, served as Chief of the OB/GYN department at Hayward’s Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. And there, about 19 years before I met her, Dr. Jose Afonso was the attending physician at the birth of one Nancy Bestor. That puts him at the origins of two of my life’s greatest passions. Thank you Doc Fons.

Treat Yo’ Self – Handbag Shopping in Paris

I love a good handbag. It’s possible this started when I worked in the purse department at Macy’s for three years during high school and college. It was then that I learned about finer bags – including Coach, Dooney & Bourke, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton – and I’ll readily admit that from age 16 on, I was spoiled and couldn’t buy a handbag that wasn’t top of the line. Fast forward 30+ years and I’m still using a few of the bags I bought way back when.

Thus when we were in Paris recently, I toyed with the idea of buying a new, fancy bag from the French luxury handbag company Longchamp. Founded in 1948, Longchamp’s signature bag is very distinctive, and once you’ve noticed one, I guarantee you’ll see them all over the place. In two sizes and at least 20 colors, their Le Pliage Tote is quite lovely. Was this elegant, practical and reasonably priced $150 bag for me though? Of course not. My eyes and heart were drawn to their luscious, brand new, all leather, Roseau Tote Bag, coming in at a moderate (cough, cough) $525.

Generally speaking, I’m not an indecisive person. When I decide that I want to do something, or buy something, I do it. But it took me forever and a day to decide on this bag. We first shopped in the Longchamp store on the Champs-Élyseés, but when I finally decided that I wanted to buy the fancy expensive bag, this Longchamp location did not have it in the color red, and I couldn’t for the life of me decide between red and yellow without actually seeing the red in person, so Bob and I walked all over tarnation to find the other Longchamp store. After a couple of wrong turns, some exasperated address hunting and, finally, a phone call, we learned we had been given the wrong address. The phone call got us on track and once we found the store, seemingly hours later, I ended up buying the bag in black. Sorry dear.

When making my purchase, I discovered that by filling out a VAT (value added tax) refund form, I could receive a tax refund 2-4 weeks after my purchase. Longchamp helped me fill out the form, which required a passport at the time of purchase, and then I dropped the form into the VAT refund box at the train station on our way out of France. The Longchamp employees had provided me specific instructions on how to fill out the form and send in for the refund, as it must be done exactly as detailed. Within a few days I received an email confirming that my refund claim had been made, and sure enough, two weeks later, I received a refund to my credit card of about $60. Because you know, you’ve got to spend to save.

I worried that I would regret such an expensive purchase, one that I was making for no reason other than that I wanted it. But you know what? I regret nothing. I use my beautiful purse almost every day and when I put the supple and beautiful leather bag over my shoulder I say to myself, “Nancy, you’re worth it.” Because I am worth it.